Board of Visitors holds public comment session on proposed tuition increase

Students and community members expressed concern with the proposed rise in costs

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The Board heard community reactions to proposed tuition increases of three to four percent.

Joe Kerrigan | Cavalier Daily

The Board of Visitors held a workshop and public comment session Friday regarding proposed tuition increases for the 2020-2021 academic year. The Board’s current proposal includes a tuition increase between three and four percent for both in-state and out-of-state students.

The event began with an informational workshop with Liz Magill, who serves as the University’s executive vice president and provost. Magill outlined the University’s goals for the future and explained the Board’s proposal for increasing tuition.

“We’ve got some basic foundational goals,” Magill said. “One is access to U.Va. — strengthening AccessUVA, which is the program we have to attract talent to the University regardless of their means.”

Approximately 5,600 students currently benefit from AccessUVA, the University’s financial aid program that guarantees 100 percent of an undergraduate student’s demonstrated financial need is met in addition to covering housing costs of up to $6,720.

Magill also highlighted the University’s efforts to expand degree completion programs, such as the School of Continuing Professional Studies, and supporting the newly-established School of Data Science.

Jennifer Davis, the University’s chief operating officer and executive vice president, said that the University tries to balance its goals of financial accessibility and academic quality when considering tuition increases.

“Maintaining the balance between academic quality and affordability and accessibility is often both an art and a science,” Davis said. 

Davis also noted that the University faces mounting costs and decreasing revenue streams due to increases in merit pay for faculty and staff and budget reductions from the Commonwealth of Virginia, which would amount to $14 million.

The University seeks to increase merit pay for faculty and staff, hoping to attract distinguished faculty. The College introduced over 25 new members to its faculty for the 2019-2020 term.

“We want to recruit and retain the best faculty, and we have been losing ground recently with some of our competitors,” Davis said. 

Additionally, the Commonwealth of Virginia is considering reducing the University’s budget by up to five percent, representing a loss in revenue of about $7 million. For this year’s operating budget, the University’s academic division received $156,331,710 in state appropriations.

“Increases in tuition have not kept pace with declines in general funds,” read a slide Davis presented. “While [increasing] tuition is a last resort, it has been necessary in order to maintain academic quality,” Davis said.

The proposed increases in tuition amount to between $10 and $12 million dollars in additional revenue for the University. In addition to increased tuition, the proposal includes up to a $174 increase in general fees, which would support the expansion of student health and wellness programs — including the new 156,000 square feet Student Health and Wellness Center on Brandon Avenue, which is expected to be completed by spring 2021.

Following the information session, the Board heard comments from members of the University community and the general public. Those who addressed the Board approached the floor and were given three minutes each to speak to the Board and the audience.

“Tuition and fees have risen sharply across the nation and Virginia in recent years,” said Stacie Gordon, a representative from the national non-profit group Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust. “While U.Va. is no exception, you could and should be.”

Gordon referenced the University’s $9.6 billion endowment and $2 billion Strategic Investment Fund. 

“You have the resources to do more for your students by freezing or even lowering tuition fees,” Gordon said.

Jacob Wartel, chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s U.Va. chapter and second-year College student, also gave comments during the session. He argued that the additional revenue from the proposed tuition increases only represented between 0.1 and 0.3 percent of the University’s total wealth.

“The University can afford to freeze tuition,” Wartel said.

In April 2019, the Board unanimously approved to freeze in-state tuition at 2018-2019 rates for the 2019-2020 academic year in exchange for $5.52 million in additional state funding from the General Assembly. The average saving per in-state student was said to be $400 as a result of the freeze.

Prior to the session, YDSA at U.Va. wrote an open letter to the Board of Visitors urging them to freeze tuition and all fees. The letter cited the rising costs of attending the University, including increased fees for meal plans and on-Grounds housing. YDSA is running a College for All letter writing campaign through the Action Network for participants to email President Ryan and members of the Board protesting increased tuition.

According to YDSA, over 300 students have signed in support, resulting in over 6,000 emails sent to Ryan and Board members.

Fourth-year College student Ahman Brown used the comment period to express his concern at the increasing cost of on-Grounds student housing. 

“I live in Brown College on Monroe Hill,” Brown said. “I’ve lived there for four years, and I just don’t think it’s fair that costs go up while the quality doesn’t.”

On-Grounds housing options for upperclass students can range in rates from $6,480 to $7,850 per academic year, with the cheapest options being living in double rooms in the Hereford or International Residence Colleges. For the $7,850 rate, students can live in the newly-constructed Bond House, or in the Copeley, Faulkner or Language Houses, all of which provide single rooms.

The Board did not respond to any comments made during the session. Some in attendance questioned whether the Board would make any significant changes as a result of the comments.

“I’m happy they come in to explain to us their goal,” Brown said. “But I honestly don’t feel as if they listen to us. We’ll see next meeting if there is any change.”

The Board of Visitors is scheduled to meet and officially consider the proposed tuition increase Dec. 6.

“We are listening,” said James B. Murray, rector of the Board of Visitors. “We have a lot of constituencies — balancing the public interest across all these constituencies is our job.”

In addition to hearing comments, the Board appoints a student representative to voice students’ interests as it conducts its business. 

Derrick Wang, a fourth-year College student and the current student representative to the Board, said he feels that members do take student input into consideration.

“I think all the Board members really value student input on these things,” Wang said. “I think it’s important that they hear that perspective. I know especially when they are considering changes or new initiatives, in order for something to be successful, it has to come from the students … if you don’t do that, it becomes very challenging to get things done.”

Correction: This article previously incorrectly labeled Liz Magill as a member of the Board of Visitors. It has since been updated.

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